The sun shines gloriously on this the fifth day of the great chicken therapy experiment. The universe is being particularly kind to us as the sun has been shining like this every day so far. This has allowed me many enjoyable of hours of sitting and watching the behaviour of my three gorgeous hybrid pullets – a Black Rock, a Light Sussex and a Bluebell Ranger. This is what I have learned so far:
- Chickens have the most insanely fascinating feet. They look just like I imagine reptilian hands would be. Imagine an upright snake with arms and you’ll get the picture. They’re pretty chunky too. When they hold up one leg with their foot tucked up behind, the feet sort of hang there, curled up like a baby’s hand. They’re also bigger than I imagined. If chicken’s feet are like puppy’s paws, I think these hens are going to grow quite large.
- Chicken’s have bums that look like mouths! When they go for a poo they lift up their feathers and their vent pops out. It looks like a small, pale pink mouth which opens into a circle to fire out a shot of poo. After the poo has fired, the vent opens and closes several times like a mouth conducting singing exercises. I think this would look hilarious with a musical soundtrack.
- Like babies, they test everything with their beaks, even me. They don’t always peck at things. Sometimes they just touch them, prod them, maybe to see what happens, maybe to smell them. (Do chickens have noses? I guess they do, well I assume they do seeing as they have two nostril-like holes on their beak but perhaps that’s what I’ll find out today)
- Chickens are shy and uncertain at first. They eventually made it out of their henhouse and into the run mid-afternoon on the second day they were here. They seemed to take it in turns to lie in the pop hole and watch what was going on. They started taking a few tentative steps down the ramp and then quickly turned round and went back into the henhouse. Eventually the white one stood half in and half out for quite a while and then took the plunge. She was wondering around the run for several minutes while low clucking was heard from the henhouse. She responded several times and then the other two followed her out.
- Chickens sort of know what they have to do. On the evening of their first day outside they took themselves to bed without any prompting. I’d been warned that I might have to pick them up and put them in for a couple of days until they worked it out but there was no need. Two of them made their first attempt at an egg on the third day they were here too. They both returned to the nest box to do this. How do they know without anyone showing them?
- When free ranging, chickens like to stick together. They move about the garden in a little group and if one takes fright and flies a few feet they all take flight and fly a few feet. All three of them did this over our border collie. They noisily launched themselves from just behind her and I feared the worst, but Molly just watched them land then stood up and retreated to her kennel.
- Chickens are not afraid of dogs but are terrified of sparrows flying overhead. They don’t seem at all worried by Molly (which they should be) but take flight whenever anything flies over them. I guess this is an instinct that saves them from raptors. But tiny sparrows? Come on girls.
I haven’t held my chickens yet. I’m letting them gradually get used to me first so that they’re calm when I first pick them up. They’re getting closer and closer to me. Yesterday all three came and sunbathed right next to me. And last night I sat in the doorway of their run and they kept coming right up to look at me. The Bluebell Ranger, by far the largest and possibly a few weeks older than the others, came over to prod me with her beak. As soon as I lift my arm to touch them though, they flee. I will be patient and build up their trust. I do after all know what it’s like to be nervous of interaction.
But are they doing me any good I hear you ask. Well, as usual on my weekly four-day weekend I haven’t really interacted with any humans other than my family and my neighbours. No change there. However, I have spent a lot of time in the garden interacting with and watching other living creatures. I’ve had to work out how best to make them relaxed, sort out their food, their water, their run. This has left very little time for brooding (if you’ll forgive the pun). I’ve had to get up early every morning (no lingering in bed afraid of the world) and I’m now powering through a large editing job that I’ve been putting off forever. So, on the whole I’d say yes, they are doing me good. It also feels good to be needed again. There’s something about having another living thing to take care of that binds you more tightly to the world.
As for eating them, I think that would already be very difficult to do. This is something I need to interrogate as it begs the question why will I eat other chickens that are treated much worse than this? Even free-range are only given limited space. But for now I think we can safely assume that naming them will cause no greater dilemma than I already face. Now to choose the right names……